Ten years separated the first film and this sequel. The only shocking thing about that factoid is that it took so long. Never mind that the musical sequences rarely had anything to do with the plot, or that the actors couldn’t sing (for the most part), or that much of it was shoddily made, filmed, edited, the original Mamma Mia made a small fortune at the box office. I guess people really enjoyed watching Meryl Streep cavort around a Greek island dressed in boho chic and miming along to ABBA. Frankly, it sounds like a gay fantasia.
Well, here comes Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, a title that sounds both like a knowing joke and a sigh of resignation, feels like the polished, finished product of what the original film could have been. This time around we watch twin stories that parallel as Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie finds herself pregnant and struggling to reopen her mom’s hotel, and Lily James as Donna, Sophie’s mom, in flashbacks detailing just how she ended on that Greek island with that property.
While the first film frequently injected musical numbers seemingly just as a way of marking time, as if every ten minutes another needed to happen, this one manages to actually build them up in a logical way, mostly. For example, Donna and young Harry (Hugh Skinner) dine at a French-themed restaurant and erupt into “Waterloo.” A little on the nose? Sure, but it’s also hilariously joyful and filled with sight-gags that work. The problem of on-the-nose visuals is endemic to the jukebox musical. “One of Us” functions as a music video as it literalizes the lyrics of the song.
At least Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is unafraid to go full camp. I mean, this is a film that features Cher in full-on diva mode wearing a blonde wig and performing “Fernando” while playing Meryl Streep’s mother. Cher’s presence is regulated to the very end, but it’s also a potent reminder of what a talented actress she is. I mean, she’s given thin material to work with, but she manages to land her laughs, project the image that she’s having a grand time, and belt the hell out of some great pop tunes. What more do you need?
It’s garish, kitsch, fun, cringe-inducing, it contains cute British boys (their ability to carry a tune is debatable), and a lot of talented actresses vamping it up. It’s not a great movie, it’s not even a good one, really, but it’s enjoyable enough in its own strange way. I think this is a good place to stop, though. But I’ll see everyone in 2028 when we get Mamma Mia! Take a Chance on Me.